Thursday, July 30, 2009
My friend Tatiana was kind enough to lend me her copy of George Balanchine by Robert Gottlieb, part of Harper Collins' Eminent Lives series. This is the same Gottlieb who used to edit the New Yorker; it turns out he was very involved with New York City Ballet.
I knew bits and pieces about Balanchine; that he was Georgian, that he was married to Maria Tallchief and Vera Zorina, that he was involved with the Ballet Russe under Diaghilev and worked with the baby ballerinas. I'd been thinking of him lately because the baby ballerinas are old ladies or dead now. And I've always felt performances by NYCB to be much superior to American Ballet Theatre. No doubt there are plenty of balletomanes (I'm not one) who disagree with me. But in this succinct biography, there are plenty of things that I learned.
Balanchine worked with Ray Bolger on three shows: Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Keep Off the Grass (no, I'd never heard of it either) and Where's Charley? I watched the movie of Where's Charley? a gazillion times when I was a teenager, and "Once in Love With Amy" is just a gem, the way that Bolger and the music and the dance all come together.
I also learned that Edward Villella was not from an exotic place, but from Bayside, Queens. He looks like he should be, right? And that Balanchine had an incredible amount of respect for Fred Astaire, to the point where he was shy about meeting him. Balanchine credited his excellent English to lessons that Lorenz Hart (can you imagine) gave him during On Your Toes.
In his later years, like W.B. Yeats, Balanchine resorted to monkey-gland injections to rejuvenate himself. It was these that were thought to cause the Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (Mad Cow disease) that eventually killed hi.